io6 HISTORY OF WESTERN EDUCATION
Gregory in his estimate of secular learning. In the Rule he im-
posed on the monks in his diocese, he prohibited the reading
of Gentile or heretical works, and thus excluded all the writers
of antiquity from the monasteries. "It is not only in offering
incense that one sacrifices to demons," he says in speaking of
the poets who made love their theme, " but in listening too readily
to their words." But though the monks were in his opinion
better without any knowledge outside the Scriptures and the
writings of the fathers, he recognized that with all its evils,
acquaintance with secular literature was necessary for the preser-
vation of the Church from false doctrine. " Better grammar/'
he says, " than heresy." The monks could afford to be ignorant:
not so the secular clergy, who had to deal with errors of belief
among the people. For the sake of the latter, and perhaps to
make the dangerous knowledge available without the students
needing to have personal recourse to its sources, he compiled
from a great variety of writers, both pagan and Christian, an
encyclopedia in twenty books entitled Origins, or Etymologies.
The first three books treat of the the seven liberal arts, grammar
occupying a whole book; the fourth book, of medicine and
libraries, and so on through a great variety of topics relating to
all phases of secular and religious experience, to the twentieth
book, which deals with meats and drinks, tools and furniture.
This summary of knowledge was really a very poor production.
In the astronomical section, for example, it stated that the sun
is larger than the moon or the earth. That is typical of its
scientific vagueness. And yet Isidore's Origins was one of the
chief compendiums of knowledge in the Middle Ages !
Thus far we have been considering only the educational
position of the monasteries in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries ;
but all that has been said about the neglect of learning on the
part of the monks applies as much to the whole of the Dark Ages.
Under critical scrutiny the evidence available on the subject
goes to negative the idea of the monasteries as homes of scholar-
ship from which learning radiated forth into an ignorant world.
In point of fact there were many monasteries which paid no
attention to learning at all; and even in those distinguished for
their culture the educated monks usually formed only a small
section. Such education as there was, moreover, related mainly
to sacred subjects, and was confined to those who were going to